Volume two of the New Zealand String Quartet's three-disc survey of the complete Mendelssohn string quartets is somehow considerably different -- and better -- than volume one. The first installment had a decidedly undesirable sound quality due, in large part, to its recording venue: St. Anne's Church in Toronto. Although recorded in the same location, sound on this disc is vastly superior. The excessive reverberation, fuzzy blend of sound, and cavernous echo are much more under control and actually yield a rather enjoyable, melded string quartet sound. Other issues present on the first disc also seem to have been largely resolved. Intonation between the four members is much more precise, although the center of pitch is still a little shaky in some of the busier, contrapuntal sections found throughout Mendelssohn's works. First violinist Helene Pohl's sound, while still the most dominant and bright of the group, is less forced and domineering. A particular standout on this disc is violist Gillian Ansell, who produces an impressively powerful, muscular sound that draws much-deserved attention to the viola line. With all of these improvements, it's much easier to enjoy the ensemble's interpretive offerings. Tempos are lively but controlled, rubato is used sparingly and with control, and dynamics are used to great dramatic effect. Kudos to the New Zealand String Quartet for such a dramatic improvement from volume one to two.
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AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell
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